St. pete one hip, artsy city – flirting with the globe

It wasn’t my first trip to the St. Pete area, but it was my first time exploring downtown. I was super excited to experience a city I love in a completely different (yet, perhaps the most obvious) way. I spent my prior trips out on the water boating, soaking up the sun at the area’s beautiful beaches and exploring the nearby hippie haven of Gulfport. My most recent trip had no boating or beaches on the itinerary – the entire weekend was focused on experiencing all that downtown has to offer. But, if we’re being perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I would yearn for some time out on the water with my toes in the sand…

The answer? NOPE. I didn’t. Not one bit. Conversely, I regretted the fact that I’ve visited the area a handful of times and failed to carve out some time to spend downtown.

There’s so much to do and see in St. Pete – I was blown away that this little gem of a city was just minutes from where I usually spent the weekend. Definitely a #TravelFail on my part!

St. Pete is completely unique, but if I had to make a comparison, I’d say that the city has a cool, hip artsy vibe like Austin, lively nightlife like Nashville and world-class cultural events and museums like Chicago, Atlanta or even a small NYC. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was just how epic St. Pete’s art scene is – it crushes what most big cities have to offer.

I’d seen Dale Chihuly’s beautiful glass creations in a few other cities, including Atlanta and Seattle, so I wondered what, if anything, would be different about The Chihuly Collection in St. Pete. Well, a lot! The pieces themselves were stunning and the collection is undoubtedly impressive, but I loved how the museum showcased Chihuly’s work. I had previously seen Chihuly’s pieces displayed in large, bright open spaces with a ton of natural light. The Chihuly Collection takes the complete opposite approach by displaying the pieces in intimate dark galleries. The darkness truly showcased the beauty of his colorful work, which helped me appreciate Chihuly’s talent in, dare I say, a whole new light?

I couldn’t get over how colorful the streets of St. Pete are! I’m a sucker for street art, so I loved walking around trying to find the 100+ murals that adorn the streets of downtown; however, taking the Mural Tour offered by Florida CraftArt made seeking out the colorful creations much more interesting. The walking tour is led by a local artist who gave me the inside scoop about the vibrant St. Pete art scene, the area’s artists and the murals themselves.

Over the last couple years I’ve become interested in learning more about our country’s indigenous natives (totally random, but true!), so I knew I’d have to squeeze in a trip to The James Museum. The brand new museum features oil paintings and sculptures depicting the history and scenery of the American West. The moment I walked into the museum I knew I was in for a treat – the two-story lobby itself is quite impressive. The building is geniusly designed to look like a canyon with the focus of the first floor directing your eye to the indoor waterfall and life-like bronze sculptures of Native Americans. The collections’ oil paintings look as though they’re photographs. (I seriously kept repeating this over and over like a broken record during my tour because they are so impressive and life-like). As an added bonus, the museum also focuses on art depicting wildlife, another passion of museum’s co-founders, Tom and Mary James.

FWTG Tip: I can honestly say The James is unlike any other museum I’ve visited. Trust me on this one – don’t skip it, even if you’re not sure whether the subject matter will interest you. My travel companion enjoyed our trip to The James just as much as I did.

Salvador Dali needs no introduction – you’re probably familiar with the prolific Spanish artist who is known for his surrealism masterpieces, but did you know that St. Pete is home to the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Spain? The Dali Museum’s permanent collection is ultra-impressive and includes more than 2,000 pieces from the artist’s entire career. The museum also curates temporary exhibits, such as “Clyde Butcher: Visions of Dali’s Spain,” the exhibit which was featured during my visit to the museum.

I spent an incredible morning at the museum. The Dali has so much to offer visitors. The building the museum is housed in is as impressive as the pieces within its walls, with its signature spiral staircase and bulging three-story walls of windows. Designed by architect Yann Weymouth, the building looks like the brainchild of Willy Wonka and Walt Disney. Outside, The Dali’s Avant-garden has a lovely view of the harbor where you can take in the scenery while enjoying a beverage or bite to eat. I also loved the “Wishing Tree,” where patrons are encouraged to tie their museum wrist bands to the branches and make a wish upon them.

FWTG Tip: Take a docent led tour. Dali was an incredibly fascinating individual. The stories behind his masterpieces are as interesting as the art itself. His paintings are riddled with “hidden” images and meaning, which I would have never known had I not taken a guided tour.

Chances are you’ll see the line of people snaking down the sidewalk waiting to order lunch, before you actually catch a glimpse of Bodega itself. This low-key eatery is no well-kept secret anymore and has become hugely popular for good reason – the food is delicious! Bodega serves street-style fare inspired by the islands that pepper the coast of Latin America. The ingredients are fresh and colorful and Bodega adds a fun twist to favorites like a classic Cuban sandwich.

FWTG Tip: I’d recommend the Pollo Asado sandwich with a half hibiscus/half lime agua fresca to drink. (You’ll thank me later). Also, Bodega is a great jumping off point to explore the hip Edge District, do some shopping or sample local craft brews by visiting a couple of the area’s “Gulp Coast” microbreweries. ( Green Bench Brewing Company is basically across the street from Bodega). The Mill

The Mill is located on the buzzing Central Ave strip (so it’s the perfect location for dinner if you plan on heading out afterwards) and has won a ton of awards, including the prestigious honor of the Golden Spoon Award for Best New Restaurant in all of Florida. I loved The Mill’s ultra-creative dishes inspired by Southern and comfort food, and the restaurant’s relaxed and unpretentious setting. However, don’t think that you’re going to be eating run-of-the mill Southern soul food. Although the menu is inspired by classics we all know and love, the Chef puts his own innovative gastronomic twists on them.

FarmTable Cucina is celebrity Chef Michael Mina’s Italian-inspired creation that was originally planned for NYC before they moved the project to St. Pete. I LOVED everything about my dining experience at FarmTable Cucina – every single dish was delicious, every handcrafted cocktail concocted by the restaurant’s mixologist was perfect and the service was exceptional. The restaurant’s menu focuses on fresh seafood, house-made pastas and locale dry-aged steaks, and the dishes are made with seasonal, regionally sourced and carefully curated ingredients. My tastebuds were lucky enough to be graced with the opportunity of trying several dishes, but a few of my favorites were the Florida burrata, fried cauliflower, gnocchi romana and the 35-day locale dry-aged Kansas City Strip (Believe me when I say, O.. M.. G..). My dinner at FarmTable Cucina was superb and the perfect way to spend my last evening in St. Pete.

FWTG Tip: You’re def going to want to try more than a single app and entree, so you may want to consider the Taste of Cucina family-style tasting menu for the table. The dishes rotate depending upon what the chef decides he’ll be whipping up that evening, but I’d be willing to bet your meal will be delicious based on my experience. Where to Stay in St. Pete:

I stayed at The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club while in St. Pete and adored the iconic pink hotel which is picturesquely located overlooking Tampa Bay. The Vinoy opened in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The stunning lobby blends modern elegance with Mediterranean Revival architecture and features glass chandeliers made by the famed Dale Chihuly. I love how the hotel pays homage to its historic roots, but mixes in modern twists like unexpected ceiling murals in the hallways and fun vintage photos in the guest rooms. The historic hotel’s grounds are a dream and I wish I had longer than a weekend to explore the shady garden paths. The Vinoy’s location is perfect because it’s far enough away from the hustle and bustle of downtown to allow guests to enjoy a relaxing and peaceful vacation, but is still walking distance to restaurants, nightlife and city sights.

Usually a weekend in a city is enough time for me to leave satisfied and believing that I’ve done and seen most of what I wanted to, but I can’t help but feel like I hardly scratched the surface of everything St. Pete has to offer. I suppose that just means I have plenty of reasons to head back soon… You can find a ton of other super helpful info to help you plan your trip to St. Pete on Visit St. Pete/Clearwater’s website. What would you like to do or see in St. Pete?